The decision of the federal government to invoke the Defense Production Act to order meat-processing plants to reopen raises a number of issues about the use of the act for this purpose.
First and foremost, the order ignores the reality that meat-processing plants continue to be hot-spots for the spread of the coronavirus, placing the safety and lives of workers, their families, and their communities at high risk for contracting and spreading the disease. Despite the best efforts of meat processors over the past two months to improve worker safety, the coronavirus continues to explode among workers in this industry. The invocation of the Defense Production Act does nothing to address this issue.
Second, we certainly sympathize with the livestock farmers who have been forced to euthanize their animals, placing these farmers on the edge of bankruptcy. But their economic losses are easily-calculable and should be recompensed by the federal government.
By contrast, what has been more disturbing in our view has been the destruction of fruits and vegetables by farmers who normally supply the restaurant business. Why hasn’t the federal government come up with a plan to purchase those foods and distribute them to the millions of needy Americans who are lining up, literally for miles, for distributions from food banks?
Third however, there is an even more basic question: Why has meat production been deemed an essential industry?
We raise this question for a simple reason: The American diet, which relies more heavily on meat than any other nation in the world, has been a major contributor to the death toll in our country for persons under the age of 60 who have contracted the coronavirus.
According to researchers, a person’s body mass index — whether someone is overweight — is a crucial factor in the ability of an individual to fight the disease. In addition, individuals who consume a lot of animal protein are more likely to suffer from the pre-existing conditions of heart disease, diabetes, cancer, and kidney failure that place them at high risk for a fatal outcome if they should contract the coronavirus.
Americans — who annually consume an astonishing average of 222 pounds of meat per person — can obtain their protein in many other ways, whether from fish and shellfish or the new food products (such as the Impossible Burger and Beyond Meat) that actually are good for our health.
Finally, we would add that less meat production benefits our environment, thereby reducing air pollution, which is another plus for our nation’s overall health. We’re sure many of our readers will be surprised to learn that the production of meat and dairy, particularly from cows, contributes enormously to climate change, with livestock accounting for almost 15 percent of the world’s greenhouse gas emissions each year — roughly the same amount as all of the cars, trucks, airplanes, and ships in the world combined.
In conclusion, the federal government needs to take immediate action to ensure that farmers’ fruit and vegetable products do not go to waste at a time when many Americans are in financial distress and in need of food. On the other hand, meat-processing plants should be allowed to reopen only when those facilities are safe for workers. In the meantime, if the coronavirus changes the typical American’s eating habits — from less bacon, hot dogs, etc., to more fruits, vegetables, and whole grains — that’s a good thing, both for the present and future health of our nation.